By Kevin McCarthy
The fluttering of wings announced the arrival of Oil.
"She's gone. She's gone," Oil announced with a loud squawk.
Fever rolled over and rolled again turning his belly to the sunbeam which had, inexplicably, moved since he lay down to take a nap.
"So?" he grumbled. "She goes sometimes."
"You aren't listening. She's not gone. She's gone!" Oil screeched the last bit.
Fever lifted the lid of one eye just enough to look at the flighty bird. Oil sat in her customary spot on the cabinet above the oven. Her black feathers were fluffed up as if she was cold and her beak twitched and clacked.
That perch was just barely too tall for Fever to reach with his best jump. But soon, Fever thought to himself and his lip curled up revealing one fang.
"I never listen to you," he replied. "You don't make sense."
"I make sense. You just don't hear me."
"My ears," he said, twitching them for emphasis, "do nothing but hear your squawking. I just don't care."
With that, he put his head down and closed his eyes, determined to reach Dream again even though the crow was back in the house.
Oil decided to try again. She knew that she was excitable and not quite as smart as the mammal lying in the sun on the floor. On the other hand, she was adept at using tools that the larger predator couldn't. She cocked her head sideways considering. Finally, she glided down to the armchair, silently.
Sitting on the back, just out range of a leap, she asked, "Where's tuna?"
"You stupid bird," Fever snarled as his head snapped up and his muscled tensed. Then the words broke through his raging mind. "Wait, where is dinner? It's past time."
"She's gone!" Oil yelled, happy to have gotten through to the big tom cat.
"Well, where did she go?"
"Men." Oil was getting excited again, feathers fluffed and speaking rapidly.
"Men came and... " the crow paused and calmed herself down. "And took her, hid her away like I hide your bell."
"You're the one who took my bell?" Fever growled. He leapt from the floor and hit the back of the chair inches below Oil's perch. Oil cawed loudly and flapped over to the mantle. The heavy cat knocked the chair over, but jumped clear as it crashed to the floor.
"Fever, we need to find her."
"Kill you," Fever snarled as he paced closer to the fireplace.
"Where's the tuna?"
"The cans are in the pantry."
"Can you open the cans?"
"OK, let me think."
Oil rearranged a tail feather that was knocked out of sync from the chair. Fever paced, his thick orange tail straight up, with the tip just barely quivering.
"Got it," he shouted.
Oil squawked at him, startled.
"Did you see where she was taken?"
"OK, show me."
"You're not supposed to leave the house without your bell."
"Cthulhu take you bird. First, you took my bell and she can't find it. Two, even if you gave it back, she's the only one who can put it on. Third, if she's in trouble, we have to be quiet."
Chastised, Oil replied softly, "I could bell you."
"Try and you're dinner, bird. Let's go."
Oil flew through the kitchen window and perched on the fence. Fever jumped to the counter, strolled to the window, and paused. He carefully judged the distance to the fence and adjusted his stance to make the precise alignment of muscles and bones needed to cover the distance. A process she referred to as "a butt wiggle".
Fever landed lightly beside Oil on the fence. He was almost perfectly camouflaged on the stained fence. His variegated orange head, tail, and back blended in to the poorly maintained fence. From the bottom, his white belly and legs could be mistaken for clouds in the sky.
Oil flew across the street to another fence post. Fever dutifully followed after carefully checking for cars and large dogs. Not that he was concerned about a dog, but because a fight would distract him from the job at hand.
"This way, this way." Oil cawed.
"I'm coming. Keep your fur flat, bird."
Oil landed beside Fever and started walking in the hop-step that birds do on the ground. The crow was not that much smaller than the cat. If she stood still, she would be a little taller than Fever. He outweighed her by almost 10 pounds.
"Why do you hate me?"
"I'm a cat. We hate everything."
Fever grinned, "Ok, except tuna. Although, the white queen down the street doesn't like tuna. I think something's wrong with her."
"Doesn't stop you from the mating call."
"Shut. Up. Bird."
"Why do you hate me, though?"
"Bird. Cat. It's the rules."
"Who made the rules?"
"What? I don't know. It's just the rules. She feeds us. I'm a predator. You're prey. Rules."
The pair traveled for about an hour. The pair crossed roads and ditches. Oil led Fever through an empty lot with tall grases. He killed and ate most of a frog on the way, sharing some with Oil who had spied it while flying slowly overhead.
They reached a giant parking lot, filled with cars. Hundreds of birds squawked and chattered setting Fever to grumbling and swishing his tail.
"Here. Here," Oil cried, sitting on a small car near the edge of the lot.
"What? What's here?" Fever asked.
"This is her''s moving box."
"Oh. I hate that thing."
"I just hate it."
"Yeah," Fever replied. "And I puked last time I had to get in and go somewhere."
"Kill you," Fever growled.
Fever stalked around the car slowly with his mouth slightly open and his muzzle wrinkled. Oil laughed at him.
He stopped and glared, "What now?"
"Do you want me to find her or not?"
"Yes, please. Funny though."
"When this is over, I'm going to eat you. You do understand that right?"
"Catch me if you can." With that Oil flew up and joined the other birds in raucous yelling.
Fever put the stupid bird out of his mind and concentrated. Right around the side of the car was her smell. Oh, he thought, she's wearing the smelly socks.
They were his favorite socks. If she left them on the floor, he would roll in them while Oil laughed at him. But they smelled so good. The scent was mixed in with some other human smells. They seemed to lead off towards a wooded lot.
As he headed that way, he found a small metal object, covered in the smells that were with her.
"Mine!" Oil yelled as she swooped down and grabbed it. She flew off before Fever could react. "Shiny."
"Whatever," Fever muttered as he headed into the woods. It was starting to get dark, but the dark didn't worry Fever too much. Sometimes, the really big predators would come out at dusk. He could take on and defeat one coyote, but a pack would only kill him.
"Look, a house." Oil called from a perch on a large tree.
"Yes, there are lots of houses," Fever grumbled from the forest floor, shaking a bit of mud off of his foot. He resisted the urge to take a quick bath.
He carefully followed the scent up to another fence, this one made of woven metal. He carefully wriggled through a gap near the gate, while Oil jumped from window to window of the house.
"She's here! She's here!"
"Great. We found her. Can we go now?"
Oil was perched on a bush near a window looking in. Fever jumped up to the window ledge and looked in through a gap in the drapes.
Two men were standing over a young woman lying on the ground. She wasn't moving. It was her, Fever could almost smell the socks from the window.
She was lying in a circle. Five white candles flared around her. They could hear chanting.
"Stop," Oil screeched as loudly as she could.
"Shut up bird," Fever cried almost as loudly.
The drape moved in the window. Both were startled and jumped.
"Just a cat chasing a bird," someone on the inside said. The chanting resumed. The drapes had been closed better.
"Any open windows," Fever asked.
"No," Oil said dejectedly. Then she remembered the shiny. She knew that it was important.
"Can't think. Shiny important."
"What is wrong with you bird? What shiny?"
"This shiny," Oil said holding it up in one foot while balancing on the other.
"That's what she uses to get in the house when we leave."
"Key!" Oil cried. "Door!" and she flew off.
Fever chased her to the other side of the house. When he caught up to her, Oil was trying to get the key into the lock by flying at it. But she couldn't hold the key at the right angle, and fly, and get it inside at the same time.
"Oil, stop." Oil didn't stop.
"Oil, quiet. They'll hear again." Oil stopped then.
"I can't get it in."
"OK, hold on. No perches close enough."
The two animals sat near the front door and looked around for a few seconds. Then they turned and looked at each other. Oil's eyes lit up.
"No," Fever said.
"Get in. She's in."
"I'll bury your bones in my litter box if you tell anyone." Oil just nodded her head and picked up the key in her mouth again.
Fever stood and stretched up as far as he could against the door. Oil, quite gently, landed on his head and stretched. She could just get the key into the lock. She worried at it for a few seconds, then it slid in with a click.
Oil changed her hold on the key and rotated her whole body, wings flapping. The key turned and they heard the bolt clear.
The handle was a level. Fever carefully judged the distance, the height and adjusted his body again. He leapt up and and landed with all four paws on the narrow lever, forcing it down with his body weight and the door opened.
The door quietly opened and they could hear the chanting from the room. As the two moved into the house, Oil marching beside Fever, they could feel the magic building. A pressure that caused Fever's fur to stand on end and Oil's feathers to fluff up.
They peaked around a corner into the room where she was. The two men were still chanting and she was starting to writhe on the floor.
A spell was being crafted. A powerful one and it would be ready soon.
The two animals charged into the room as one. Oil, avoiding the area around the circle, flew into the face of the man furthest away. Her claws left small gashes and he threw his hands up to protect his eyes from her probing beak. She easily flew away from this hands and constantly scratched and bit at him.
Fever hit the closer man in the stomach with all four paws, massive claws extended. He drew blood from a handful of deep gouges. He leapt away as the man brought his hands down.
The cat ran behind the man. Fever jumped, hitting the wall and jumping again. He hit the man in the back of the neck, a yowl of anger followed his claws shredding the delicate skin of the ear and neck.
This time, he wasn't fast enough. The man grabbed, catching Fever's back foot and threw the cat across the room.
"Fever," She yelled, then screamed in pain.
The animals attack had caused the men to lose control of the spell, magical energy was now running out of control, most of it through her.
The men were yelling too. In fear from the lost spell and the pain of a dozen minor wounds. Fever was squalling, limping as he tried to get ready for another attack. Oil was yelling, "Save her. Save her."
The two animals knew what they had to do, what their entire purpose in life was. Fever made a stumbling leap into the circle while Oil dove from above. Magical energy coursed through their tiny bodies, but this is what they were for. Channeling, focusing, amplifying her magic. The whole greater than the sum of the parts.
She stopped screaming.
The men realized that their work was ruined. They were yelling at each other and ran from the room, but the three in the circle didn't hear them.
As Oil and Fever took the pressure off of her, she could focus again. The spell was a fizzle, broken beyond repair. But the energy was trapped, without guidance and without an outlet, and the three were trapped with it. Healing Fever's minor energy was trivial with this much power. But the rest… She tried to control it to bottle it, but it was too much, even with Oil and Fever to help.
Then the men came back in the room. One had a shotgun, the other a large knife. She knew what she had to do. She had made a vow never to use magic for evil, but self-defense wasn't evil and she wasn't about to let her best friends die.
She channeled the energy, gave it forms from her imagination, using her friends as templates. The two men really had no idea what they had assaulted and captured. The one raised the shotgun and she completed her work.
Oil burst into flame, the flames took the shape of a giant bird easily four times the size of the crow. It let out a piercing shriek and turned to the men. They had already dropped their weapons and started running.
Fever took a second longer, no longer a small house cat, he was now a raging inferno the size of a leopard. In two strides, Fever had crossed the room and easily caught one of the men. He screamed as his clothes burst into flame and claws of pure energy shredded his legs..
Oil flew past that melee and hit the other man in the back, her beak was a dagger of fire that pierced his heart killing him in an instant.
The hallway was on fire, each spot where Fever had stepped was a puddle of fire. Oil's wings had carved lines of flames in the walls.
The two animals continued to savage their targets, ripping at flesh and stabbing organs.
"Fever! Oil! Come!"
They heard her, but didn't listen. The anger and fear they held had combined with the magic turned them into savage beasts.
The house was burning down around them and the magic was running out. Their flaming bodies were getting smaller and weaker, while the real flames were getting stronger.
She was standing on the edge of the lot, watching the house consume itself. She tried again, yelling as loud as she could "Fever. Come here boy. Oil, come here girl." She yelled again and again.
Finally, she saw them, a small orange and white cat with a crow sitting on its back. Walking out the door. Both wreathed in flame, but as she watched the flames weakened and finally puffed out. The house behind them collapsed as she rushed to gather the two animals in her arms.
"Fever, Oil. My loves. You saved me. How?"
Fever, upside down in her arms quietly said, "You missed my dinner time."
She laughed and sobbed at the same time while Oil laughed from her shoulder. "Yes, I guess I did. Sorry about that."
"If you rub my chin, I might forgive you."
"Sure. But let's get out of here." She could already hear the sirens getting louder. She walked away from the burning house cuddling her tom cat and letting her crow rub her neck with his beak.